Compounds containing chlorine keep pools and hot tubs sanitary, but exposure to the chemical poses some health risks. Low levels of skin exposure can cause eye and skin irritation. Higher levels can result in severe burns and ulcerations. Chlorine can also strip away your skin’s protective oils, which can make it dry and itchy.
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Effects on Your Skin
Exposure to chlorine can cause contact dermatitis, or skin inflammation resulting from direct contact with an irritant. Symptoms may be a red rash and severe itching, as well as blisters in severe cases. The drying effects of chlorine and water may also cause itchiness without a rash.
What to Do
When you start itching from chlorine, get out of the pool and limit your exposure to the chemical. Chlorine-related rash and itching typically subsides within two to four weeks. Hydrocortisone creams help relieve the itchiness. In severe cases, you might need to consult a doctor for oral corticosteroids and antihistamines to relieve itching and inflammation.
Before you swim, slather on a moisturizer, such as petrolatum, on the areas of your body most susceptible to itching to minimize the irritation from chlorine exposure. Shower or bathe after your swim using a mild, moisturizing soap. Allowing chlorine to stay on your skin after you swim can dry out your skin and make it more prone to irritation. After showering off, apply a thick moisturizing cream to help seal in your skin’s moisture.
Signs of Trouble
A rash that appears within a few days of soaking in a hot tub might be hot tub folliculitis, a type of skin infection. Hot tub rash, or hot tub folliculitis, occurs when bacteria infect your skin. Itchy spots on your skin may develop into a red, bumpy rash with pus-filled blisters around the hair follicles. Although the rash is a nuisance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that it usually clears up without treatment within a few days.
Properly maintained hot tubs and pools are less likely to spread germs and cause skin irritation. According to the CDC, pool operators should check chlorine and pH levels twice a day. Optimal chlorine levels are 1 to 3 parts per million. An optimal pH level is between 7.2 to 7.8. Ensure that your own pool or hot tub is properly maintained, and frequent facilities that follow CDC guidelines.